The Tale of Snow White

April 2005

It had been an unusually dry and warm winter in Montana . . . until we got there. They hadn’t had a significant snowfall all winter because the jet stream brought their winter weather south to Los Angeles and to us in Phoenix. Like any good fish tale, the locals told us, “You should have been here last (week/month/year). It was really (good/bad) then.” And the truthfullness with any fish tale is if their lips are moving, they're lying.

People who’ve migrated to Phoenix from colder climates are used to driving in snow, but I grew up in Southern California and the idea of navigating back roads by keeping between snowplow markers along the roadside is novel if not terrifying. At first the blacktop had a dusting of snow, then it turned gray, and then disappeared under a thick white blanket. Finally the white on the road blended into the sky and the view out of the windshield was featureless. I think that’s called a white out. We searched for signs of a snowplow, but as we drove further, I nervously wondered if we had picked the only road that snowplows wouldn’t venture. My only solace was an occasional car passing in the other direction. I’d quickly check to see if they had chains. When I confirmed they didn’t, my testosterone screamed, “If they can drive in these conditions, so can I.” I cautiously changed lanes to drive in their gradually vanishing tracks.

It didn’t seem to bother my wife, Anne. She’d taken one of her happy pills and was content to replace the silent radio with her version of White Snake’s: Is This Love? Normally her singing chases dogs out of a room, but now I found it refreshing, as the pain kept me alert. Occasionally, she would comment about how beautiful, peaceful and quiet everything was. I thought “All the better to muffle your screeching, my dear.”

We crossed over the mountain summit we’d been traveling, where the only souls we saw were burly men dressed in flannel coats, unloading shiny snowmobiles. This was the only snow of the year and, by God, they were going to play in it. As we passed, the road descended sharply. I regretted not upgrading to a four-wheel drive SUV instead of this cute little PT Cruiser we took. Still, there was no sign of a snowplow.

On the occasions when we did stop, we saw that the rental car was covered in dirty ice clogging up the wheel wells which made awful noises whenever I turned the steering wheel or hit a bump. We called them boogers, because it looked like frozen snot on kids faces when they come in from the cold. The final insult was running out of windshield washer fluid. Now I know why they sell it by the gallon there. When oncoming traffic passed, the tire spray would freeze instantly as it hit the windshield and we used the last of the fluid up, spraying the windshield in a desperate attempt to keep it clean. My only chance of being able to see was to turn the defroster on loud and keep the wipers moving fast. Soon, my menopausal wife had all the windows rolled down to counter balance her internal furnace. Where is that snowplow?

At the bottom of the grade, we approached the community of Monarch. Traffic was stopped in the road and I could see emergency workers clearing an accident. We took our place at the back of the line. The car door in front of us opened and the driver got out and came back to let us know what happened.

“A dump truck had an accident and spilled sand all over the road.” he advised.

Of course that wasn’t good enough for me. Being a manly man, I needed to see for myself, so I walked down to the scene of the accident. There, in the middle of the road, dead on its side, was our snowplow. No one wash hurt and since they didn’t need the assistance of a photographer, I went back to the car and relayed to Anne what I’d found out. She wondered aloud what we should do.

I said, “At least the plow made it this far. How much worse could it possibly get?”

Till next month.